Technological advances in photography have fundamentally changed the nature of artistic collaboration. While photography has a rich history of artist pairs producing compelling work, the shifting nature of the medium has afforded new opportunities and new visions of what it means to create images. Just as collaboration has tested artistic boundaries, new technologies have encouraged experimentation in photographic processes—and the ideas that animate them.
Some current collaborators work in ways not too distant from previous iterations of co-created work. Working alongside each other for more than a decade, the artistic team of Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown have regularly tested new processes for image making. Though each work individually, their work together under the name Louviere + Vanessa has garnered the most critical acclaim. Louviere + Vanessa describe their work as a team effort, with each taking on different roles in the artistic process and each drawing on the other’s strengths. Vanessa leans in the direction of careful control, Louviere in the direction of abandon.
When describing their work, they point to one of their earliest collaborations to illustrate core elements of both their identity as an artistic team and their methods of working together. Vanessa had produced a series of pristine negatives that she had intended to print, but when she left the house one day, Louviere found them and, curious about the effect of distortions, began to rub them with steel wool. The “ruined” images ended up being their initial forays into a distressed look that would mark their collaboration.
Their work continues to draw on a similar aesthetic and a similar mode of creation. They envision themselves and their processes as constantly reinventing themselves and their process, willing to call on any medium that speaks to them. “We are the Wings of photography,” Louviere quips. They work together on creating a scene or bringing to life an idea, each absorbing aspects of the other’s mindset and vision, but at the core of the process is sitting together as a pair discussing and envisioning the work. Side by side, they make photos, installations, and even music.
New technologies, however, mean that artistic teams need not actually be sitting next to each other to create work. The digital era has brought with it not only more democratic access to image making and consumption, but also more opportunities for collaboration. Such is the case with the remarkable team of Francisco Diaz and Deb Young.
Diaz lives in the U.S, and Young lives in Australia, yet together under the name of the International Collaboration Project, they use real time technology to produce haunting, engaging, and startlingly beautiful work. Diaz and Young found each other, aptly enough, through Facebook. They admired each other’s work and began a correspondence that ultimately resulted in a shared project, “The Wolf + The Bird.” That project, created remotely together across 8,000 miles, launched their career as collaborators. They continue to work together in real time using various technologies so that they can discuss, workshop, and create an image, but they do so across oceans. They each sit down miles apart from each other and workshop an image. Each has a hand in every step of the process, and unlike typical collaborations, there is no traditional distribution of work load. Instead, it is real time co-creating of a photograph.
Diaz and Young are quick to point out the novelty of their arrangement, and the historical necessity of it. “This type of working together,” they observe, “simply would not have been possible even ten years ago.” The digital era has changed what it means to create together.
Challenging the image of the solitary artist working alone in a studio is rarely the stated goal of artistic collaborators, yet in a digital era that collapses time and distance, it is precisely what people like Diaz and Young do. They do it conceptually in how they address an idea. They do it technically in the materials they use and the processes they manage. And they do it culturally, negotiating an unspoken expectation that art is the product of a single creator. For photographers like Louviere + Vanessa and Diaz and Young, to collaborate is to produce the most authentic work, but it is also to redefine the boundaries of an artistic medium.
This article first appeared in Issue 9.
Roger Thompson is Senior Editor for Don't Take Pictures. His features have appeared in The Atlantic.com, Quartz, Raw Vision, The Outsider, and many others. He currently resides on Long Island, NY, where he is a professor at Stony Brook University.